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Mercer Island caught in middle of I-90 tolling debate

Tolling the one and only way on and off the island does not sit well with residents. "No tolling" signs litter the island. (KIRO Radio Photo/Dave Ross)

The state doesn’t have the money to finish the 520 Bridge project. It is more than a billion dollars short. So the state wants to toll I-90 to pay for it.

That doesn’t sit well with drivers around the region and especially the 22,000 people who live on Mercer Island who have no other way to get to and from their homes.

The state Department of Transportation is making its pitch to cities served by I-90 this week. The Washington State Department of Transportation’s John White was in Seattle Monday saying the state needs to toll I-90 or the 520 Bridge project won’t be completed. “We are looking at full tolling of I-90,” White told the Seattle City Council.

Turning the HOV lanes on I-90 into toll lanes is also being considered, but it isn’t going to be enough to cover the shortfall so that state needs to toll the entire stretch across Lake Washington: from Bellevue to Seattle.

On Tuesday afternoon on Mercer Island, WSDOT was facing a packed house full of angry people. Tolling the one and only way on and off the island does not sit well with residents. “No tolling” signs litter the island. City councilmember Mike Cero said people living on the island can’t afford a tax like that. “The normal household with kids in the schools they’ll run up a tab of $5,000 to $8,000 with a potential toll.”

Cero believes that will force some to move, depressing home values, and businesses which rely on off-island customers will disappear. “They won’t come to Mercer Island to save a little money at the thrift store or to buy their glasses at Mercer Island Eyeworks.”

For Cero, this is not just a Mercer Island issue. “This is a regional issue, and Mercer Island has the same interest that Bellevue, Sammamish and Issaquah do,” he said. .

What about the freight haulers, Cero asks? They don’t use 520. They use I-90 to get to the Port. They have no other options either.

But as John White said – tolling is the direction WSDOT is going. The gas tax just doesn’t do it anymore. “It’s all going to be about user-fees going forward,” he said.

The state is holding these public meetings around the region this year, and it will present its findings to the legislature. Lawmakers will decide in 2014 whether or not to place tolls on I-90.

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